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Drummer returns for Regatta

Steve Turner (center) leads workshop students in a procession as part of the Regatta opening ceremonies Wednesday night. Beth Rickers/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — His deeply tanned skin evident of a lifetime spent in the Florida sun, drummer Steve Turner returned Wednesday to the small Minnesota beachside he first visited seven years ago. Turner rolled up to the Regatta in his nondescript white van, which was packed to the max with a striking array of drums. 

The sun shone brightly, accompanied by a steady, refreshing breeze, as Turner and a bright-faced group gathered under a tent to lessen the heat. The Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida, native was about to lead the latest “drum circle for human empowerment” of his 25-year career.

“It builds community and shows how far people can go when they work together,” enthused an exuberant Turner.

Exuberant, energetic, and lively would all be appropriate words to describe the dedicated drummer, who’s had a love of rhythm and music for his entire life.

“I started when I was 4 years old. It’s a flashbulb memory, for me. ‘Dallas’ was on TV, and the theme song came on. I looked at Dad, and said I wanted to grow up and be a bongo player. It’s been my career for the last 25 years,” explained Turner.

His percussive enterprise is called Giving Tree Music, and for Turner, “It is based on the book — about service and giving of yourself. To me, that is what this whole business is about.”

Although his career has spanned multiple decades, Turner did not begin by leading drumming workshops, circles, and team-building events.

“I started traveling and making drums to sell. I put my drums outside, so people would play them, and over time, decided playing with others was the way to go,” said Turner.

Today, he still crafts drums to sell, while bringing his engaging experience to schools, prisons, corporate events, and festivals like the Regatta.

“I was here seven years ago, and Gail Holinka did a lot to bring me back. She’s really the unsung hero of the Regatta,” said Turner. “She originally found me when I was selling drums at the Renaissance Festival, bought a drum from me, and contacted me about coming here. She wrote a grant that allowed me to visit the first time.”

Soon, a sizeable group of nearly 30 people, from toddlers to grandparents, was flooding Sailboard Beach with catchy, funky rhythms from djembe and West African ashiko drums. Turner exuded a positive, fun vibe that made even those who looked most skeptical at first get into their drumming.

“And-a one-two-three-four-STOP! Let’s go!” yelled Turner, as he halted playing for a split second before plunging the group back in.

“Rock out!” said a visibly excited Turner.

Throughout the drumming circle, participants of all ages slowly but surely overcame initial fear and inhibition to become jiving, rocking drummers and embraced their natural sense of rhythm.

As more people ventured near the tent, Turner enthusiastically invited them to join the circle and offered them instruments, exclaiming, “The dance floor is open — I’m serious!”

After concluding the first half of the drumming session, a hot and thirsty but still animated Turner said, “Everybody can make music, and that’s what is great about it. Worthington has been really good to me. It’s fun, and we got teachers to dance.”

Holinka and Turner also acknowledged the Nobles County Integration Collaborative for its major support, along with the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council and the Worthington Optimist Club.